The novel La musique du diable, ou Le Mercure galant devalisé (Paris: Robert le Turc, 1711) describes the arrival and subsequent activities of Marie-Louise Desmâtins and Lully in Hell; it also recounts events leading up to the soprano’s demise.
In the absence of any historical record of her last days, one might ask whether there could be a modicum of truth in the novel’s reports that Desmâtins had grown so obese that she engaged the finest butcher of the day to remove her fat; that she then mounted a lavish party for which all of the food had been prepared using this fat; at that she died soon thereafter from unknown causes. The reader is assured that she was welcomed to Hell with the highest honors, and that she is happier there than she ever was in her earthly life.
This according to “La musique du diable (1711): An obscure specimen of fantastic literature throws light on the elusive opera diva Marie-Louise Desmatins (fl. 1682–1708)” by Ilias Chrissochoidis (Society for Eighteenth-Century Music newsletter 11 [October 2007] pp. 7–9).
Above, a rather alarmingly corseted Desmâtins in a contemporaneous portrait; below, the final scene of Lully’s Armide, which Desmâtins starred in in 1703 (note that this is not an attempt to replicate the original staging).
Samuel Johnson lived in London during a struggle between English and foreign composers—epitomized by the rivalry between Händel and Thomas Arne—and witnessed its climax, which was to have a devastating impact on English musical morale through the 19th century.
During Johnson’s first decade in London this rivalry was characterized by Händel concentrating on his own affairs and ignoring Arne, while Arne was highly conscious and jealous of Händel. Their fortunes fluctuated, the one prevailing in public taste and then the other, but the spectacular performance of Händel’s 1749 Music for the royal fireworks, HWV 351, and the triumphant revival of his Messiah the next year finally established him as London’s pre-eminent composer. When he retired from the music scene in 1759 neither Arne nor any other English composer managed to achieve comparable public acclaim.
The 1784 commemoration of Händel at Westminster Abbey featured some 275 singers and an orchestra of about 250. Johnson chose to go to Oxford that week, but Boswell, having accompanied Johnson there, returned to London after three days to attend the event. Although Johnson died that year, he had lived to see the victory of a composer whose work would prove as enduring as his own.
This according to “Music in Johnson’s London” by Bruce Simonds, an essay included in The age of Johnson: Essays presented to Chauncey Brewster Tinker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 411–420); the book is covered RILM retrospective abstracts of music literature.
Below, Händel’s 1749 work with appropriate visuals.
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In 2013 Alpuerto and Centro de Investigación y Documentación Musical (CIDoM) launched the series Investigación y patrimonio musical with Música policoral de la catedral de Cuenca: Motetes al Señor y los Santos de Alonso Xuárez (1640–1696), edited by José Luis de la Fuente Charfolé.
The activities of the composer Alonso Xuárez (1640–96) were crucial for the development of the religious repertoire at the Catedral de Santa María y San Julián de Cuenca. Xuárez was responsible in great measure for the stabilization of the music chapel and its repertoire, bringing Cuenca on a par with neighboring cities in regard to the quality and breadth of its liturgical music.
The motets collected in this edition address general liturgical rituals and pay tribute to local saints and regional traditions. A list of singers and performers connected with the music chapel of Cuenca’s cathedral for the period 1661–74 is appended.
Several aspects account for the success of John Gay’s ballad opera The beggar’s opera when it premiered in London in 1728.
Gay’s skillful transformations of well-known songs contained many witty references to the originals, adding a rich subtext that his audience would have understood fully.
His audience would also have appreciated his caricatures of grand opera, which included references to recent London productions—particularly Händel’s Floridante (1721) and Alessandro (1726)—and to the highly public rivalry of the local operatic sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni (1696–1778) and Faustina Bordoni (1697–1781).
Gay’s facility as a writer was also a factor; he created clever, well-wrought lyrics and dialogue, vivid characters, and an irresistible ironic tone. An accomplished musician, Gay was certainly the musical arranger—not Pepusch, as some have argued.
This according to “The beggar’s opera” by Bertrand Harris Bronson, an essay included in Studies in the comic (Berkely: University of California Press, 1941, pp. 197–231); the book is covered in the recently launched RILM Retrospective Abstracts of Music Literature.
Above, William Hogarth’s 1729 painting of a scene from the work (click to enlarge); below, a gallant and dashing excerpt from Peter Brook’s 1953 film, courtesy of our friend Allan Janus.
The 1725 account in Mercure de France of two Native Americans dancing at a Paris theater provides a detailed link between the large corpus of earlier European descriptions of New World music and the composition of Rameau’s harpsichord piece Les sauvages.
The account and the composition constitute a significant episode in the prehistory of ethnomusicology. Rameau’s detailed characterization of the Indians’ performance in the piece develops initiatives by 17th-century French musicians, and his later operatic use of Les sauvages in Les Indes galantes mirrors the ambiguities of Europe’s response to the Americas in the 18th century.
This according to “Rameau’s American dancers” by Roger Savage (Early music XI/4 [October 1983] pp. 441–52).
Today is Rameau’s 330th birthday! Above, the 1760 bust of the composer by Jean-Jacques Caffieri (click to enlarge); below, a two-harpsichord version of Les sauvages.
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In an experiment, 80 students were each randomly assigned to one of four treatment conditions: no treatment (control), music only, imagery only, and music and imagery combined.
The first group was asked to sit quietly for 17 minutes. The second group listened to a recording of Pachelbel’s D-major canon. The third treatment used directed imagery to help the subjects visualize the bone marrow, a primary source of lymphocyte production, and the radiation of cleansing lymphocytes to various areas of the body. The fourth treatment combined the music and the directed imagery.
The second, third, and fourth treatments resulted in significant increases in the subjects’ immune response. The fourth treatment, however, did not show a significant increase over those of the second and third.
This according to “The effects of music and biological imagery on immune response (S-IgA)” by Chung Tsao Chien, et al., an essay included in Applications of music in medicine (Washington, D.C.: National Association for Music Therapy, 1991, pp. 85–121.
Today is Pachelbel’s 360th birthday! Below, Rob Paravonian discusses other uses of the celebrated canon in D.
Bach’s life was shaken by several confrontations and traumatic events that had important repercussions on his personal and professional development.
One of the first documented conflicts with authority occurred when he was just nine years old, following the loss of both of Bach’s parents, when his brother Johann Christoph confiscated a manuscript that Sebastian had copied behind his back. When this event is conceptualized in terms of recent research on coping with trauma and trauma recovery, it reveals Bach’s sense of vulnerability to authorities and the establishment of a lifelong approach to resolving conflict.
Patterns of action throughout Bach’s early career reveal efforts towards autonomy and independence through outward resolutions of conflicts with authority. When he was in Leipzig the authorities’ lack of enthusiasm for music made him consider departing from this prestigious position. His previous conflicts with authorities resulted in just such a departure; however, his decision to stay in Leipzig reflects a different mode of conflict resolution, one that involves inward reflection rather than assertive confrontation.
This according to “From Ohrdruf to Mühlhausen: A subversive reading of Bach’s relationship to authority” by Sara Botwinick (BACH: Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute XXXV/2  pp. 1–59).
Above, Bach as he may have appeared in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig; below, the beautifully reflective Ich habe genug, BWV 82, from February 1727, four years into his Leipzig tenure.
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A semiotics of sex roles in French society was played out in 18th- and 19th-century ballet by projecting it onto imaginary Native American societies.
In the 18th century, sauvage culture became a canvas for the projection of utopian sentiment with subtle social texturing, allowing the expression of fantasies of less restrictive sexual roles; in the 19th century, sauvagerie became grotesque and increasingly unrefined, shifting the emphasis from cultural to racial difference and affirming the status quo.
This according to “Sauvages, sex roles, and semiotics: Representations of Native Americans in the French ballet, 1736–1837” by Joellen A. Meglen (Dance chronicle XXIII/2  pp. 87–132; XXIII/3  pp. 275–320).
Above and below, Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735).
On 26 April 1706, in a solemn ceremony in Rome, Arcangelo Corelli was accepted as a member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia; as customary, he assumed a shepherd’s name: Arcomelo.
Forty years later, the Swiss Jesuit Martin Schmid copied several of Corelli’s works into his draft-book of music for the Indian community in Bolivia that he was fostering and overseeing—a community that was sometimes known as New Arcadia.
In Bolivia, Corelli’s Arcadian music was subjected to a radical metamorphosis by those who understood Indian performers and audiences. His works were thereby consigned to a museum of cultural symbols as objects of a revered past.
This according to “Arcadia meets Utopia: Corelli in the South American wildnerness” by Leonardo J. Waisman, an essay included in Arcangelo Corelli: Fra mito e realtà storica–Nuove prospettive d’indagine musicologica e interdisciplinare nel 350° anniversario dalla nascita (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2007, pp. 651–85).
Today is Corelli’s 360th birthday! Below, the original version of one of the works that was subjected to a Bolivian metamorphosis.
As one of the most powerful nonpolitical figures at Louis XIV’s court, Lully was far from immune to its culture of intrigue.
Henri Guichard, a perpetrator of various frauds and a rival at the court, hatched a plot to poison Lully in 1674, and approached a corrupt police officer, Sébastien Aubry, who had access to the Opéra and often saw Lully there. The unfolding of the plot, which involved a poisoned snuff box, had a strong element of farce as Aubry ineptly attempted to play both ends against the middle, jockeying for his own best interests while appearing to assist Guichard.
Eventually a mutual associate tipped off the composer, who formally accused Aubry of conspiracy to commit murder. Guichard exercised what influence he could, but Lully, as a close associate of the king himself, had the upper hand. In the end, the composer was able to delay the case until the only two dissenting judges finished their terms of duty.
This according to Jean-Baptiste Lully by Ralph Henry Forster Scott (London: Owen, 1973, pp. 76–83). Today is Lully’s 380th birthday! Below, Boris Terral portrays the composer in Gérard Corbiau’s Le roi danse (2000).
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